Q&A

70, MARATHON CHAMP AND FE­MALE- RUN­NING PI­O­NEER

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THS ISSUE -

Marathon pi­o­neer Kathrine Switzer

ON APRIL 19, 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer (bib num­ber 261) lined up to run the Bos­ton Marathon at a time when women weren’t per­mit­ted to com­pete. At mile two a race of­fi­cial tried to stop her, but Switzer fin­ished in 4:20, mak­ing his­tory. She went on to run 39 marathons, win­ning the New York City Marathon in 1974, and led the cam­paign to get women of­fi­cial sta­tus in dis­tance races. In 2015, she launched 261 Fear­less, an ini­tia­tive that uses run­ning to em­power women. On April 17, Switzer once again toes the line of the Bos­ton Marathon, to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of her game-chang­ing de­but.

WHAT GAVE YOU THE CON­FI­DENCE THAT DAY?

I’d been run­ning since I was 12. It gave me such a sense of ac­com­plish­ment. When I was 19 and train­ing re­ally long for the first time, my coach and I re­alised that the longer the run, the bet­ter I was. I could hold my own against the guys when we went long.

WERE YOU MAK­ING A POINT IN BOS­TON?

I was just a kid who wanted to run her first marathon.

HOW HAS IT SHAPED THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE?

In the race, I kept won­der­ing why other women didn’t run and then it dawned on me that they were afraid to try be­cause they’d been told all these myths of lim­i­ta­tion and be­lieved them. I knew if they were of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to try, they would re­spond. And that is what I de­cided to do with my life, to try to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties and spread the word.

HOW WILL IT FEEL TO BE BACK ON THE BOS­TON START LINE?

I’m ner­vous, but also ex­cited. This race is not go­ing to be about a fin­ish­ing time; it’s about cel­e­bra­tion, in­clu­sion and grat­i­tude. I’m run­ning to say thanks to a race, a city and thou­sands of won­der­ful peo­ple who have done so much to give strength to women.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT RUN­NING?

It gives me ev­ery­thing. Health and fit­ness, of course, but it also soothes my soul, makes me pow­er­ful, cre­ative, fear­less, free and grate­ful. No mat­ter how crappy a day may be, a run makes it all good. Run­ning has also helped ease a lot of the stress of form­ing 261 Fear­less. Like any start-up, a not-for-profit is back­break­ing work, and I may not see some of the fruition of this work in my life­time. Run­ning gives me per­spec­tive.

WHAT CAN RUN­NING OF­FER TO WOMEN?

Fear­less­ness! Most women in the world live in a fear­ful sit­u­a­tion. When you put one foot in front of the other, you get a sense of your own strength. There is a rea­son run­ning is be­com­ing a women’s sport: not be­cause these women want to be Olympians, but be­cause they want to be free. This em­pow­er­ment through run­ning has changed mil­lions of women’s lives.

ARE WOMEN RUN­NERS DIS­CRIM­I­NATED AGAINST THESE DAYS?

The sit­u­a­tion is not nearly as bad as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s a shame it ex­ists at all. How­ever, for thou­sands of years, women have been re­garded as sex ob­jects, and pow­er­ful women as threats, so look how far we have come in the last 50 years. This will con­tinue to im­prove as women con­tinue to run in pub­lic and as men be­come ac­cus­tomed to see­ing them. The hard­est thing to over­come is the cul­tural, re­li­gious and so­cial re­stric­tions in many coun­tries. But even this is chang­ing – at the Lon­don Olympics all coun­tries were re­quired to have at least one woman on a na­tional team to be al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate. I’m cer­tain run­ning will free many women from these chains. This is what 261 Fear­less is all about.

TELL US MORE ABOUT THE OR­GAN­I­SA­TION

Our ob­jec­tive is to cre­ate a com­mu­nity of women who can help em­power other women. We have a com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work and 261 Fear­less runs clubs all over the world, in­clud­ing sev­eral start­ing in the UK. We be­lieve if women can run to­gether in a non­judg­men­tal, non-com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, they will get that sense of em­pow­er­ment. We also part­ner events that em­brace our ideals (see Fear­less in the UK, left) and we’ll have a 261 Fear­less event next year in China.

OUT OF THE WAY Race of­fi­cial Jock Sem­ple is bun­dled aside as he tries to pre­vent Kathrine Switzer from run­ning in the 1967 Bos­ton Marathon. That’s Switzer’s then boyfriend, Tom Miller, do­ing the bundling.

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